13 workshop short cuts from Chuck Hedlund
Whether you spend an hour a week or every waking hour in the shop, chances are you feel like it’s never enough time. While I can’t create more time for you, I can maximize your woodworking time. You won’t need fancy tools or complicated jigs. As you’ll see, you just need to effectively set up your shop, and approach projects with a plan.
1. Lay out your shop for effective workflow.
This 12×20’ shop makes the most of every square foot with logically located workstations and tuck-away tool storage. Machines are positioned with infeed and outfeed room, and can be moved to accommodate working with long boards.
Mount machines on mobile bases to simplify adding a new tool or temporarily relocating equipment while working on a big project. You can build your own bases, or buy models to fit most any tool.
2. Get organized and stay that way.
Few things cause more frustration than being unable to find a particular tool or bit when you need it. Router bits, as an example, seem to sneak away easily, so I give them dedicated storage. This holder (found in issue 139) mounts to the wall near your router table to cradle bits safely within easy reach.
Not all tools and accessories need to be in plain view all the time. To prevent losing track of those you store behind cabinet doors or in drawers, apply labels for instant recognition.
Cleaning isn’t a chore most of us enjoy, but you’ll reap great rewards if you spend just 10 or 15 minutes tidying up at the end of each shop session. It lets you collect your thoughts as you organize your tools, and gives you a head start when you return to the shop.
3. Collect dust at its source.
A dust collector removes most, if not all, of the dust and chips, meaning you don’t have to. This results in huge time savings by drastically reducing the time you spend cleaning up. You can create a centralized dust-collection system with ducts to every machine, or just move a collector from tool to tool as needed.
4. Take time to tune.
Don’t wait until you cut into your precious project stock to find out your tablesaw blade is misaligned. Check all your machines before you get under way. Also check the condition of your chisels, blades, and bits, and sharpen any that need it.
5. Buy another router.
If there’s any tool you can justify two of, it’s a router. With two routers, you won’t have to undo setups or waste time swapping parts. For maximum versatility, get both a fixed-base model and plunge router.
If you have a router table, you can dedicate one machine to it. A fixed-base model works great in most tables. This leaves the plunge router available for freehand work. Some manufacturers offer an extra base, which you can mount to the table, then simply swap the motor.
6. Study the plan before you start.
Even if you’re proficient at all the operations involved in a project, read through any plan completely, and take notes as you read. Doing this helps you to translate someone else’s plans into the way you work.
Record and locate all of the tools, lumber, and supplies you’ll need. Study the materials list (where the sizes of all the individual parts are stated) and jot down the common measurements for quick reference when it comes time to set up your machines.
7. Have your lumber on hand when you begin.
Go through the plan’s materials list, or make one up for projects you design, and add everything up to determine your lumber needs. Then, get all of your lumber, plus at least 20% extra, at one time. Doing this allows you to match grain and color.
Don’t think of the extra you buy as waste. I don’t discard any decent-size cutoffs until all the parts of a project are cut and assembled. This wood is perfect for testing setups and techniques, and trying out finishes. Plus, having identical stock on hand can save a project if you need to re-create a spoiled piece or make an inconspicuous patch.
8. Go with what you know.
You need to experiment in order to learn new skills. But if you’re working with a deadline, it may not be the time to try something new. Go with techniques you know, such as simple biscuit joinery, instead of making this the time you learn how to hand-cut dovetails.
9. Have your hardware when you start.
The last thing you want is to cut all your project parts based on specific hardware, only to find it unavailable. You may have to substitute if you can’t find the exact item specified. If so, expect to alter dimensions accordingly.
10. Plan your steps before each session.
Before you head for the shop, plan what you want to accomplish. This reduces errors by focusing your concentration on specific tasks, and reduces setup changes by grouping similar operations (more on this later). Plus, planning eliminates time wasters, such as finding out one piece isn’t sanded to final grit when you have wet finish on everything else.
11. Build a prototype.
If the project includes new techniques or a modified plan, or if you need to get a glimpse at a new design of your own creation, prototype it, as I did with the candle lantern in issue 148. You’ll keep the mistakes off your real project. Your cutoff bin is a great place to find prototype stock, but if you need to buy wood, try poplar. It’s inexpensive and easy to work.
12. Minimize setups on similar operations.
When you begin a project, start by thicknessing all your stock at the same time to make sure your parts match exactly. Then determine which parts require similar joinery.
Tenons, for example, often share the same dimensions throughout a project, even if the pieces they’re cut into are of different sizes. Perform those cuts at one time so you’re not constantly redoing the same setup.
Even with careful planning, duplicating setups is inevitable on some projects. Make it easier on yourself by taking notes and keeping your test pieces to use as templates. These approaches don’t only save time, they increase accuracy.
13. Cut lumber to size early.
Double-check measurements (and whether any parts need to start out oversize), and then precut all the parts you can. This saves you from tripping over long boards while you work. While you’re at it, cut an extra of any piece that requires testing tool setups.
Mark each part with its name or letter using chalk. It shows well, yet sands away easily without staining.
If parts will sit for a long time before being used, bind them with plastic stretch wrap, found in about any officesupply store. This organizes the parts and inhibits wood movement caused by changing moisture content.